A Travelling Botanist: A plant worth its weight in gold!

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Guest blog series by: Sophie Mogg

To those of you who cook exquisite dishes using saffron, I am sure you are aware of its beautiful aroma and colour as well as its hefty price tag. The question I want to ask is, can you name the plant saffron is derived from?

Crocus sativus
Crocus sativus

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and is harvested from Crocus sativus, commonly referred to as the saffron crocus. C. sativus will grow to approximately 20-30cm and produce up to four flowers, the saffron itself being the stigmata of the plant and often referred to as strands. This domesticated crocus is in fact sterile and so bulbs must be divided and replanted in order for more crocuses to grow. This plant is sterile due to it’s triploid genome, meaning that it has three paired sets of chromosomes.

Saffron, like tea, is hand-harvested with each flower only yielding 3 strands. The flowers bloom at dawn, gradually withering throughout the day and the stigmata rapidly losing their aroma and colour hence the flowers must be collected quickly so that the saffron can be removed from the flower and dried. It is estimated that over 85,000 flowers would be required to produce 1 kg of saffron. These factors are what contribute to the high sale price of saffron. In order to keep your saffron fresh, buy it in small quantities and store it in an airtight container away from sunlight. This will ensure it stays in top condition for 3-6 months.

The use of saffron is not limited to South Asia and is often used to impart a pale orange-yellow hue to foods such as rice but it also features in Swedish baked goods, soups and Italian liqueurs such as Strega and Fernet. Kashmiri saffron, produced in Pakistan, is commercially sold for use as both a dye and a folk remedy for melancholy. Saffron has also had notable references made to it in the treatment of scarlet fever, measles, Alzheimer’s disease and is currently being investigated for its potential to treat to asthma and insomnia. If you’re interested in the research conducted into the use of saffron you can find all the relevant links here.

Please complete the poll to have a say in the type of plant that features in the series. If you choose other, please specify what you would like to see.

For more information:

Grow your own saffron crocus 

Interesting facts about Crocus sativus

BBC Recipes using Saffron

Did you know you can request a guest blog on a plant of your choice? Comment below with your favourite plant and if it’s in our collection and found within South Asia or Europe, I’ll be happy to feature it!

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4 thoughts on “A Travelling Botanist: A plant worth its weight in gold!

    Winterbourne House and Garden said:
    November 6, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    It would be great to learn more about Cornus mas ready for winter

      Rachel responded:
      November 7, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      I shall definitely look into whether we have any in our collection! Thanks – Sophie

    A Travelling Botanist: « Herbology Manchester said:
    November 21, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    […] time but it can be stabilised by using vinegar.  As previously mentioned in my other posts both saffron and henna are used as dyes […]

    […] is labour intensive to produce, so natural vanilla is still the second most expensive spice (after saffron). Albius’ method allowed vanilla to be grown in what is now Madagascar, Reunion and the […]

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